Legislature Needs to Pass Crisis Intervention Team Training Bill

Paton had an article published in the Greenville News today. You can read the article on the Greenville News website here.

When the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 10 they will have an opportunity to set the tone for the next two years by jumping on a bipartisan police training bill that will solve problems, save lives and hopefully set a tone of co-operation in Columbia to get meaningful legislation accomplished.

S. 173, a Crisis Intervention Team bill which was pre-filed by Democrat Sen. Vince Sheheen and has Republican Rep. Dan Hamilton set to file companion legislation in the S.C. House, will push much-needed de-escalation training for police across the state by mandating all 46 counties to set up a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT). Currently, about half the counties across the state have some level of CIT training, including about 15 counties with a formal program.

The bill will also create a statewide Technical Assistance Council to help accomplish this goal through governing CIT and helping departments identify and implement available funding and grants.  S. 173 will also help fulfill the mission of the Stepping Up initiative resolution that Greenville County Council recently passed.

CIT and de-escalation training is one of the hottest topics and movements in policing solutions across the country and recently has the support of Congress through the passage of the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. Many national advocacy and policy organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Police Executive Research Forum, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Stepping Up initiative to reduce the number of mentally ill behind bars also fully support CIT.  CIT is centered on resolving conflict with the mentally ill and people in substance abuse crisis without use of force unless absolutely necessary and then getting them the best possible help available. According to a USA Today report people with a mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by police and according to an NBC report half of the people killed by police have a disability.  These numbers don’t reflect people who are in alcohol or substance abuse crisis that do not have a mental illness or disability.   It is my firm belief that if Officer Michael Slager would have had adequate de-escalation training Walter Scott would be alive today. This bill will solve much of the policing crisis that is so prevalent in the news today.

CIT and de-escalation training teaches officers how to approach people in crisis in a slower fashion and connect with them on a very human level.  The goal is that the police will be slower to threaten force and safely get the person in crisis successfully arrested without force.   We are not advocating the removal of weapons for officers because obviously many times they are needed and very necessary.  What we are trying to do is give the police another tool to protect and serve, and hopefully get the person help where the “T” in CIT comes in.   The “T” stands for “Team” because CIT and this bill do more than just train de-escalation techniques.   Under the “Team” umbrella this bill pushes for community support once the person in crisis is safely brought in.   This bill also supports things like mental health courts, drug courts, addiction recovery services, housing assistance, availability of medications, counseling, etc.

The organization I founded called Rehinge.com has worked closely with Sheheen to get this bill introduced and has set up a web page for you to get involved called FightStigma.com where you can sign a pledge to contact elected officials to tell them about the importance of mental health reform and bills like this.  We need you to call members of the General Assembly and ask them to co-sponsor and fully support S. 173 the Crisis Intervention Team and de-escalation training legislation.   This problem has been created over years of political leaders not knowing how to address mental illness and through cuts for services for those in need.  Now the police are forced to pick up the pieces.  This bill is an opportunity to start turning the tide in the proper direction but we need your help.

Kevin Morison, director of programs for the Police Executive Research Forum, a highly respected police policy think tank out of Washington, DC, researched the bill and had this to say: “This proposal is important and innovative – a real model for other states to follow.”  South Carolina has the ability to not only solve much of the policing crisis here in our state but we have the potential to serve as a model for the rest of the country. S. 173 is a bipartisan solution that will protect our officers, the mentally ill and those in substance abuse crisis.  If you agree that saving lives, saving money and making our communities safer is important please get involved and help us pass S. 173 the Crisis Intervention Team and de-escalation training legislation.

Paton Blough is the Founder of Rehinge.com and is a NAMI SC state board member. He can be reached at Paton@rehinge.com or 864-444-4409.

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